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It only looks random ...

Satori of a wandering mind.

February 3rd, 2009

KeVin's short story: "What I Remember Most" @ 12:22 am

Below the cut is a story of mine: "What I Remember Most."
It's a short story, only about 1100 words long; a Classic BattleTech tale that was published on BattleCorps four years ago. It appears here with the permission of Loren Coleman, head honcho of InMediaRes, Catalyst Game Labs, and, of course, BattleCorps.

I have brought "What I Remember Most" to my Live Journal because I keep finding myself explaining what it is I write. Game fiction, or fiction set in game universes or, to use the industry term, fluff means nothing to people who are not gamers.

At its core, every good game is paper-rock-scissors. In other words, in a well structured game each player has an equal potential to win. The game developer creates a fictional universe surrounding the structure of the game that is (hopefully) intriguing as well as entertaining because she wants the players to be engaged at as many levels as possible. The universe in which a game is set provides context for the competition -- it defines the stakes, establishes motives beyond simply beating your opponent.

Classic BattleTech, one of my favorite games to write for, is set in a distant future in which machines of war became so terrible that rules were established to prevent humanity from wiping itself out. Instead of fielding great armies or launching weapons of mass destruction capable of laying waste to worlds warring nations decide conflicts in what amounts to duels between balanced forces of MechWarriors piloting great war machines called BattleMechs. Of course once war becomes palatable and relatively risk-free, it becomes constant -- the premise of the game.

Over the last twenty-five years dozens of BattleTech Field Manuals, Technical Readouts, and Handbooks have been written in addition to the core rule books. These paint the universe in broad strokes, providing details of daily life for role players creating characters and briefs of campaigns for game masters creating scenarios for competitions. These are the "nonfiction" of the fictional universe; I have written for some of these.

Game fiction goes beyond these reference books. Fluff does not affect game play, but it provides depth and texture to the world in which the game is set.
When searching for a story, I do not pay much attention to the main narrative arc of the game universe. I like to poke around the edges, combing the old field manuals for details no one cares about. Mention of an agricultural world attempting to buy off an invading military force with exotic fruit triggered "Blitzernte." Mercenary cadre contracts include a no-suicide clause allowing them to walk away if their employer tries sending them to their deaths; this led to "Commitment."

"What I Remember Most" was inspired by a "historical" account in Field Manual: Periphery. Nearly five centuries before the "now" of Classic BattleTech, the Star League annexed the world of pacifistic neighbors "for their own protection" -- a static occupation until one rash act by a frustrated MechWarrior triggered a riot that led to reprisals that led to resistance that grew to become the Reunification War.

What I Remember Most

Santiago City, Santiago
Outworlds Alliance
6 March 2573

What I remember most about the day before my thirteenth birthday is the colors of the snow.

Before you tell me that snow has no color, I challenge you to look at it. Really look at it. Not on a cloudy, dreary day when it is falling, but on a day after; a day of bright sunshine.

See the colors? There, playing across the surface, the sunlight sparkles, startling free tiny rainbows of gem fire. There, and gone again, appearing and disappearing with every step. Or there in the shadows of evergreens, subtle shades of blue and grey and lavender. Blending in a cool and restful palate.

My mother always said I had the eyes of an artist, seeing color and form and beauty everywhere. In places no one else thought to look.

All of my life all I have ever wanted to do was paint. Not in harsh acrylics or heavy oils, but in the feather soft lightness of watercolors. You can not blend or mix watercolors, each shade must be perfect as you apply it. The image must flow from your heart through your brush to your paper. Because that's what makes painting different from a photograph.

A photograph is a scene, a reality that is, captured in a moment. It has a form, a composition, a balance; the photographer brings craftsmanship to this image captured by the camera. But it is an image of what is physically there.

The artist, the painter, captures the spirit of the world.

I was a blessed girl, my mother always said. Blessed with an artist's eye and soul and blessed to live on Santiago, where the heart and soul of the artist is valued.

"From each, as they are able. To each, as they have need." The founding law of our people. And as I gave the people a glimpse of the soul of beauty around us, they would give me the food and shelter and comfort to let me seek out that beauty. That was what my mother said, and -- until the strangers came -- what my mother aid was true.

The strangers. Santiago has no reptiles, but even so there was no mistaking the evil of the serpentine dragon with which the strangers marked all that was theirs. And all that was not theirs, but which they claimed as none would oppose them.

They came, these strangers, and claimed our world.

Claimed Santiago though it held nothing they desired and though our position -- numbers meaningless now as they were then -- meant we were near nothing they desired. The founders had known this, had chosen this haven for that very reason. But the strangers said there was danger, war and rumors of war, and they had come that we might have peace.

Peace was what we had before the strangers came.

But that morning, the day before my thirteenth birthday, almost three months ago now, I was not thinking of the strangers. Not thinking of the empty storefronts along the street, or of the cold, damp scent of old smoke that lingered there; lingered everywhere.

Our school was on the other side of the park, and the park was a wild place. Not neatly trimmed and controlled, it was what the city planners called a wilderness zone; a place of trails wandering through trees and brush where you could hear wearies' nesting songs on summer nights and find strawberries growing wild in the spring.

A creek ran through the park. The day before, on the way to the school, I had seen the ice along the rim of the waterfall above the swimming hole. The minerals in the water, baleful stainers of blonde girls' hair, were captured in the ice and -- as the morning light shone through them -- vibrant in greens and orange and blues.

I imagined that painting through most of the day, feeling each brush stroke as I chose my colors. Mrs. Eckhart commented on how cheerful I looked.

On the way home, of course, the sun had moved and the icy citadels along the edge of the rushing water were subdued in the greys and blues of twilight.

The next morning was a free day. I headed out, my paint box and folding easel over my shoulder, the flask of water for mixing paints warm inside my coat, to capture the morning glory of the waterfall.

Moving slowly along the street, pausing every so often to regard a burned out building like a scavenger sniffing at bones, was one of the strangers' machines. Even with soul and eye of an artist, I could find no beauty in that hulking insect shape, taller than a tree. Some of the younger children were calling out to it, calling it names and throwing snowballs. The machine, or the man in the machine if there was one, paid them no mind.

Neither did I. Ducking my head deep in my collar, I hurried by, crossing the street into the safety of the park.

My first warning was the footprints. Huge, they churned up the ground. Black earth and red clay and the crushed greens and browns of plants were mixed through the whiteness, killing its joy and its color. Still, I had hope.

Hope that died at the waterfall, now a twisting rapid where a giant heel had slid down the embankment. The painting, the beauty in my heart that had kept me so happy, was gone.

I don't remember running back toward the street, I remember the shape of the trees, bending and wavering through my tears. And I remember the snow, away from the footprints, radiant and clear in the morning light.

I didn't think when I saw the monster. I screamed. I threw fistfuls of snow, not caring enough to make snowballs. I threw my paint box.

Above me, high on the monster, there was a sound. A scraping, sighing sound that cut through my screams.

I looked up.

They tell me the fluid the war machine dumped on me was not a weapon. It's called coolant. A stupid name; it burned.

They tell me that my hair should grow back, which would have made my mother happy. She always loved my hair. The doctors tell me the skin grafts have taken perfectly. By the time I'm fourteen there will be no sign of scarring at all, they say.

But they can't save my eyes.

I have already seen the last thing I will ever see. That scalding flood of coolant.
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Date:February 7th, 2009 01:56 am (UTC)
You're a writer, aren't you. I love this story - and you know I know nothing about gaming and such. As for your concerns about writing descriptions in the romance? Totally unfounded. (See paragraph 3. Exquisite.)

It only looks random ...

Satori of a wandering mind.